Review:  Samsung Galaxy Tab 4
(10.1-inch / Wi-Fi Only version)


120studio.com
May 5, 2014




Intro

Some of you may remember the days of NCSA Mosaic.   I remember that, too.  A lot has changed since then.   The Internet has become more consumer-oriented. 

Whether this is good or bad depends on your perspective, and the intended use of your computing device.  For better or worse, the tablet and the smartphone represent major steps in this "consumer Internet".   They are geared more toward entertainment and browsing than content creation. 

There are quite a few tablets on the market now.  I've never been a major fan of tablet computing, or smartphones, but I wondered if the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 could change my mind. 

Let's see.


Specs

Let's briefly compare the Galaxy Tab 3 with the Galaxy Tab 4.


Tab 3 10.1

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
Intel Atom Z2560 1.6 GHz dual-core processor
1.0 GB RAM
MicroSD slot
1280x800 screen resolution
Weight:  17.9 ounces
List price:  $399


Tab 4 10.1

Android 4.4 Kit Kat
Qualcomm 1.2 GHz quad-core processor
1.5 GB RAM
MicroSD slot
1280x800 screen resolution
Weight:  17.2 ounces
List price:  $349   (you can buy it discounted here)

The raw CPU frequency of the Tab 4 is a bit slower, but it's more than offset by the quad-core CPU.   The Tab 4 10.1 is also just a bit lighter than the Tab 3, but you will probably not notice it (0.7 ounces difference).



Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1


User Interface

Trying the Galaxy Tab 4 after spending years on a desktop computer, there I was wondering where the heck they hid the File and Edit menus on the web browser.  That's a bit frustrating, but it's to be expected for tablet computers. 

The "long press" is supposed to be the equivalent of a right click, and sometimes it gives useful options on the Galaxy Tab 4.  It takes a while to figure out when you can and can't do a useful long-press, but I guess the same thing could have been said for mouse right-clicking.

In some ways, though, I'm quickly reminded that a tablet computer is just never going to be a desktop.  Where's the "File --->  Save As"?  Where's the "Edit --->  Copy  --->  Paste"?  Where are the keyboard shortcuts?  Where's the command-line terminal?  Where are all the numerous things I could do with a regular mouse and keyboard?

Yep.  They're not there, mostly.  You can use a Bluetooth mouse with the Tab 4, though, but I didn't try it.  Right out of the box, the feeling was sort of "Neat, but I want my Linux netbook."

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, like other tablets, is primarily a device for consuming media rather than creating it.  It starts at the interface level, because without a two-button mouse and a keyboard, there's only so much you can do.

Then again, as you begin to learn the UI on this machine, you can see it's got a lot of neat features. 

Here's just an example:  Customizing your desktop, which on the Tab 4 is called the "Home" space.    At first I could not figure out how to put the icons I wanted.  Doing a couple of long-presses on different icons, I found that I could move them around or drag them to different desktops or screens.  Ah, now we're getting somewhere.


Long-press on your icons and you can drag them to different desktop spaces. Great for getting those unwanted apps off your main screen.

Actually, that reminds me of a big reason why I'd recommend the Galaxy Tab 4 over an Apple iPad:   the Galaxy Tab 4 is much easier to customize.  You can do more with it if you're a power user. 

It helps if you have a stylus for this tablet, but it's not strictly necessary.  Unless you have big fingers.  (Pick up a pack of cheap styli here, or better quality ones through this link.)

Here's one gripe about the Galaxy Tab 4's interface.  It's too easy to tap accidentally on something.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 will from time to time present you with dialog boxes.  Some of these will ask you to make important privacy decisions.  Great that they're at least telling you, but I've noticed it's all too easy to tap on the wrong thing here and "accept" something you didn't agree to.  Just for example:  the Samsung virtual keyboard tries to guess what you're going to type, and by default it also wants to guess personal information and passwords.  So you have to carefully uncheck the box, but in the meantime you could easily tap it accidentally.  Annoying.  Even if you know it's touchy, it's a bit too easy to click something you didn't want to.

Overall, though, the unit is pretty good at explaining what it's planning to do, what's going to be shared, etc.  There are a lot of options, even if they're not immediately obvious because maybe you're accustomed to a mouse-keyboard interface with its context menus.


 
Agreements, Hmm...

Marketers and advertisers have always tried to gather more and better information about would-be customers.  In the Internet era, it's about gathering that info from browsing habits, buying habits, and that sort of thing.

On the tablet PC, this whole game has been stepped up a little bit.  Now it's easier to get corraled into a situation where you have to agree to the data harvesting.  To download apps, for example, you have to go through either Google Play or the Samsung App Store.  There might be another way, but it's definitely not obvious.  Each of these app stores has their own set of privacy agreements. 

If you use the Internet much, you've probably already assented to Google's agreement, but now Samsung? 

They make electronics, but they want your data.  Who's next, the garbageman?



I read through their agreement, and even though they're saying they won't disclose your info to third parties "for their own independent marketing or business purposes", there's an exception where they can do that with Samsung affiliates.  I don't even know who all those are. 

That in itself is kind of par for the course in today's Internet, but on certain devices from Samsung there's "automatic content recognition"  (ACR).  I first learned about it here.  ACR is where it gets really invasive, because it basically monitors the content of the media you watch, in order to gather richer data and form more comprehensive advertising profiles.  Does the Galaxy Tab 4 have ACR?  I'm not sure yet, but I wouldn't be surprised.  I'll update this review when I find out more.

Here we are:  the Internet, 2014... a patchwork of overlapping privacy agreements that eventually leaks all your information to advertisers everywhere.  With a desktop or laptop, power users can avoid the worst of it, but with tablet PC's you're pretty much funneled into it.

We're almost at the diametric opposite of where the Internet was twenty years ago:  it required more skill and knowledge to use, but at least you didn't have to trade away your data in exchange for the basic functions.    I'm not saying that Samsung is any worse than any of the rest, by the way.   I predict you'll see Automatic Content Recognition and similar technologies trying to happen more often in the future, unless too many people complain.

Also, with a tablet PC, the "sharing" thing is ingrained into the whole user experience.  It's all too easy to tap accidentally on the "share" icon when in fact you wanted the "trash" icon.  I could do without that situation.



Camera

This is mostly a photography website, so it's natural that I'd pay a lot of attention to the camera specs. 

It's been said often that megapixels don't matter, so maybe you could excuse the 3-megapixels or so that this camera offers.  I've had lots of good use from a 4-megapixel point & shoot, and I even have a couple of 1-megapixel gems kickin' around.  So, the camera on the Galaxy Tab 4 should in theory be passable.

While it sort of feels like something from 2005, the pictures are not bad.   Outdoor photography is going to be your best way to use this camera, as long as there's no bright sunlight to glare off the screen. 

Here's a sample pic, taken during what was probably my 220th blocked sunset in a row.  Click for the full-size image.


Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1
3-megapixel rear-facing camera
No adjustments. 


The photos are 16:9 aspect ratio.

If you're semi-serious into photography, you'd do better with a good point & shoot like the Canon SX260, which is actually quite good in low light (for what it is).  Actually, even a Canon SX150 may do better for you than the camera on the Galaxy Tab 4.   That said, the Tab 4's camera is passable for scenery pictures, and even the occasional indoor photo.   Just know that there's going to be some chroma noise and blotching.  You can begin to see it in the full-size image (click, above), but it will be more pronounced in your indoor photos.

Here's another thing you should know about the camera.  It's not so great for close-up (portrait) shots of your new baby or your pets, because the focusing distance is a little too far.  So, the pillows on the couch in the background will be in focus, but baby will not, unless you move him / her back a little ways from the camera lens.  It's not a huge, huge issue, but I just thought you should know about it.  (I'm accustomed to using a DSLR that has a pretty close-focusing lens on it, so I kind of notice this stuff.)

For the intended purpose (sharing images on social networks, etc), even the too-close blurry pics will probably be acceptable, because you'll be resizing them down to, say, 720 pixels wide.



Browsing the Web

It's not too hard to get this tablet connected to the 'net if you have a Wi-Fi network.  The one catch is that if you're using static IP addresses, you'd better get it set up for that before you start entering your long Wi-Fi password, because otherwise it will erase the password and you'll have to start over again. 

The Google functionality sort of permeates the whole experience, as you'd expect from an Android machine.  Google offers to back up all apps and personal data on their servers, including your Wi-Fi passwords.  Ummm, no thanks. 

It's pretty easy to make shortcuts to your favorite websites on the desktop, though I can't remember the exact procedure.  I think it involved tapping on the Favorites icon at the right-hand side of the address bar, and choosing from the option menu.  Pretty sure that's what I did.  (By the way, it's not called a "desktop" here, it's called "home".)

Here again, I greatly missed the File and Edit menus that are normally found on a web browser.  The tablet is more like an oversized smartphone than like a computer.  Again, it's more of a passive browsing experience.  Form definitely wins out over function here, but what do you expect from tech companies that are always trying to push the "next big thing"?

Someday, tablets as we know them now will be obsolete.  The future ones will be voice activated.  Then, those will become obsolete, because eventually they will be thought-activated.  The whole thing will be contained in a wristwatch-sized computer and it will project its screen on a wall, or maybe into the air as a hologram, like Princess Leia in Star Wars.  Or maybe it will project itself onto your retinas (which I'd find a bit too invasive, and what if it malfunctioned, but you get the idea.)  So let's don't get too attached to all this "Next Big Thing" stuff, because even if you reach a level of contentment, the tech companies never will.   (I like my 1980's film camera and my rotary phone from 1959, both from yard sales.  If it works well, and I like it, there's no need for a replacement.)

More about Web browsing:

Tablets in general have more privacy concerns than desktops or laptop computers (unless the desktops & laptops are using Windows......).   So, the first thing I'd recommend is to go and download Mozilla Firefox.  You can then type "about:config" into the URL bar and change some privacy settings.   Turn off "geo", "keyword", and "search suggest", to name a few.  Another thing you can do with Firefox is get some browser extensions such as Ghostery, which will help block trackers.  You should do this.

After you play around with this tablet for a couple days, the web browsing experience will feel pretty natural.  I still like the desktop / laptop way better, but the tablet is actually pretty cool.



Other Apps

If for some reason you don't care about all this privacy stuff, and you don't care what you have to agree to, the other apps could be just what you always needed.  Listening to music, watching TV, relaxing and taking in your favorite advertisements... these are easy enough to do with the Galaxy Tab 4.  Just know that as of now, the Galaxy Tab does not have as much of an app selection as the Apple products do.

One of the Galaxy Tab's biggest strengths, to me at least, is that it has a Kindle reader app.  The highly reflective LCD screen is pretty much useless for reading on the beach, but if you're sitting indoors and you're not near a bright window, then it will suffice. 

The Galaxy Tab 4 supports Adobe Flash player, which as far as I know, the iPad doesn't.  (The best thing for video content creators would be to move toward HTML 5 video, but right now Flash is still very common.)  If you like to watch YouTube videos on a portable device, I reckon the Galaxy Tab 4 is your tablet.

UPDATE:  I've read that Adobe Flash Player is no longer supported for mobile OS's.   In fact, a reader emailed me because her Galaxy Tab 4 gave an error message that it didn't support Adobe Flash Player.


The Galaxy Tab 4 is still listed as having Android 4.4, though.  That means you should be able to find a version of Flash that will work with it.  It would not be the current version, which is what the tablet is probably trying to download.  I think what you'd have to do is search around on the Adobe website for earlier versions of Flash.   I believe you can still download them from Adobe.   (How to do this on a tablet PC I'm not sure yet, because I'm so accustomed to a desktop computer.)



SD Card Storage

I'm happy about being able to store files locally on an SD card, because my initial choice (the Kindle Fire HDX) doesn't allow that.  I know a lot of companies want people to use "the cloud", but when they take away the ability to store data locally, the whole thing starts to look creepy.   I for one could do without The Cloud, except maybe for storing mp3's and Kindle books. 

The MicroSD card is auto-detected by the tablet.  Just make sure to unmount it before you eject the card.  This is one area where they could have made the feature more conspicuous.  I had to hunt around on the top bar and can't even remember just how I got to the SD card "umount" function. 

Because it has a micro SD card slot, you could use this tablet to share your higher-quality photos from another camera, if so inclined.  You can also use the microSD to back up your stuff, which I think is a lot better and less invasive than requiring users to back it up to someone else's server bank.



Battery Life

After messing around with this thing for quite a while (don't ask me exactly how long), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 was still at 70% battery.  That was long enough browse the Web for a while, watch two or three YouTube vids, and take the tablet out for an attempted sunset photo or three.  Then back home for a bit more Web browsing and playing around with the MicroSD storage.  So, my basic impression:  even though I haven't sat and measured it, the battery seems to last a while.





Summary

The Galaxy Tab 4 is actually a lot of fun.   Aside from the privacy issues typical of any tablet computer or smartphone, I can't find anything major to dislike about this tablet.  In fact, I like the Galaxy Tab 4 a lot, and coming from a person who doesn't even like tablets or smartphones, that should tell you something.

The customizability is a big plus.  It's never going to be an adequate replacement for the mini-laptop or netbook, but the user experience is overall very pleasant.



I hope you found this article helpful.  Please help me keep this website on-line by purchasing any of your gear through the links on my website, such as this one to buy your Samsung Galaxy Tab 4.   (Just know that right now, the Tab 4 is in pretty heavy demand, so there's a bit of a wait to get one. Order now so you can set the ball rolling!)  

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